Producing ethnographic knowledge in and of a non-government organisation
Paper short abstract:
This paper explores ethnographer/informant relations when anthropological writing is presented to research participants, including some of the epistemological and practical problems encountered studying an NGO.
Paper long abstract:
The production of ethnographic knowledge has the potential to create ruptures between informant and anthropologist. This is especially acute in sites where our informants systematically produce their own representations of practice, separate to those of the ethnographer. My research on an international NGO with a carefully managed public image represents such a field site. In this paper I focus on a particular instance in my field research, where the act of disseminating ethnographic findings back to my informants, as per ethics requirements and a research agreement, resulted in a rupturing of the relationships that I had relied upon to generate my insights in the first instance. In presenting a viewpoint outside of organisationally mandated modes of representation that did not reflect agreed upon, normative understandings, but rather my own observations, the act was an example of what Mosse (2006) has called 'anti-social anthropology'. In giving an account of this event in fieldwork this paper explores questions of intellectual property, of assemblages of what is in and what is out as legitimate subjects of anthropological research, and the epistemology of situating 'ethnographic authority' alongside NGO discourse. In spite of having good relationships with our informants, it is by pointing to things that usually remain unsaid that the study of the social can become a rather anti-social endeavour.
Intimacy & information: dilemmas of power, trust and property in the informant encounter